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'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for May 3

Read the transcript to the Thursday show

Guests: Alex Castellanos, Susan Molinari, Charlie Black, Mike Murphy

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Butterflies in the locker room as the 10 presidential candidates and the moderator get ready for the main event of the season, the Ronald Reagan Republican debate.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Just three hours to go now before the Republican presidential candidates take the stage down below me for their first debate.  It‘s a debate I‘ll have the privilege of moderating, and you can see it here and only here on MSNBC and our on-line partner,  This hour, last-minute strategy from the campaigns, plus a special look at some of the great debate moments of Ronald Reagan.

We begin with advisers to the three Republican candidates that are leading in the polls so far, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and John McCain.  Former congresswoman Susan Molinari‘s a Giuliani campaign adviser, Alex Castellanos, a middleweight, is an adviser with Romney, the Romney campaign.  And over in the spin room, a pro.  Charlie Black is a McCain campaign adviser.  I‘m going to give them each a chance to do their pre-game hype because that‘s what we‘re here for.

Susan Molinari, Rudy Giuliani‘s leading in all the polls.  We got a brand-new “USA Today” Gallup poll out today.  He is trouncing his fellow New Yorker 51 to 46, Hillary Rodham Clinton losing to Rudy Giuliani.  What happened in the debate last week that gave him his edge?  Because I was looking at polls right before that debate and she was ahead.

SUSAN MOLINARI, GIULIANI CAMPAIGN ADVISER:  Well, I think what people continue to see and what they continue to look for is leadership, I mean, leadership on a whole host issues, but most importantly on the war on terror, or as Rudy Giuliani calls it, the terrorists‘ war on us.  When they look at who they want to lead this country, with Rudolph Giuliani, they have an opportunity to see somebody who took New York City and made magnificent changes in reductions of crime, cutting taxes, reducing the welfare rolls, putting people back to work and making New York City—

“Time” magazine had a picture of it before Rudy became president (SIC) of a rotting apple with a worm on it, and it becomes the number one city people want to live in, thanks to his leadership.

You couple that with his acumen in dealing with the war on terror, and you‘ve got the type of leader that America wants.

MATTHEWS:  That was all true, if it was true, or is true, two or three weeks ago.  What happened last week?

MOLINARI:  I think...

MATTHEWS:  Why did he flip the numbers with Hillary overnight?

MOLINARI:  I think when people saw what Hillary Clinton was all about, they decided who‘s the one person...

MATTHEWS:  OK, this is the part I like.

MOLINARI:  Who‘s the one person...

MATTHEWS:  What did they see in Hillary Clinton they didn‘t like?

MOLINARI:  A lack of leadership.

MATTHEWS:  Really?

MOLINARI:  And who is the one person that they think can beat Hillary Clinton?  And every poll, since Rudolph Giuliani has sort of announced, has shown that he is the one person that can beat Hillary Clinton or any Democrat nominated.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask the same question of Alex Castellanos.  You‘re a pro.  You know your business.  How does Romney—how does Romney beat Hillary?  Hillary‘s a heavyweight.

ALEX CASTELLANOS, ROMNEY CAMPAIGN ADVISER:  No, I think, frankly, what you saw last week is the Democrats have got a plan to lose the war in Iraq, and I don‘t think that‘s something that the American people are very...

MATTHEWS:  You think Hillary‘s a dove?

CASTELLANOS:  I think the Democrats—I think the Democrats...

MATTHEWS:  She‘s a dove?

CASTELLANOS:  I think the Democrats did themselves a lot of harm last week, when you have troops in the field—you know, there are moms and dads out there with their sons over there, and they‘re hearing Democrats saying we‘ve lost the war.  It‘s emboldening...

MATTHEWS:  Who said that?  Name the names.

CASTELLANOS:  Harry Reid—all of them...


MATTHEWS:  Name a person, Alex, in the Democratic debate that MSNBC hosted last week...


MATTHEWS:  ... that said we‘ve lost the war.  Name one.

CASTELLANOS:  A couple of the Democrats...


CASTELLANOS:  ... including Joe Biden, said that that was the wrong thing to say.  Name a Democrat who denounced that...

MATTHEWS:  I‘m asking you.

CASTELLANOS:  ... on that stage.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m asking you...

CASTELLANOS:  They didn‘t.

MATTHEWS:  ... who said they lost?

CASTELLANOS:  They didn‘t, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s your assertion.

CASTELLANOS:  They didn‘t, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  You can‘t give me the names.  Hillary didn‘t say we‘ve lost.

CASTELLANOS:  Well, I can tell you the ones who did.


CASTELLANOS:  Joe Biden.  But very few others didn‘t...

MATTHEWS:  He said we lost?

CASTELLANOS:  Lieberman—no, he said that was the wrong thing to say.

MATTHEWS:  OK, tell me which one—back up your assertion.  This is a debate tonight, Alex.  Back up your assertion that the Democrats last weekend in their national debate said we‘ve lost.  Name one guy who said that.

CASTELLANOS:  The only guy who took a stand against that on that stage was Joe Biden.

MATTHEWS:  You can‘t remember the names of the Democrats, can you! 

That‘s your problem.

CASTELLANOS:  Well, there are...

MATTHEWS:  Name one.

CASTELLANOS:  ... almost as many of them as Republicans...

MATTHEWS:  Name one!

CASTELLANOS:  I‘m having a hard time with all the Republican candidates.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the third try.  On HARDBALL, we try three times.  Name the Democrats who last week, speaking for Romney, who said we‘ve lost the war?

CASTELLANOS:  Well, they all say they want to get out today.  Why do they think we need to get out today?

MATTHEWS:  Well, they‘re looking at the polls.  Maybe they‘re just political.

CASTELLANOS:  Oh, they have the courage to do what‘s popular.

MATTHEWS:  Maybe that‘s right.  Let‘s go to Charlie Black, who‘s with the McCain campaign.  Word in “The New York Times” today that John McCain, the senator from Arizona, may well be separating a bit from the president tonight.  Is that what‘s going to happen tonight, Charlie?

CHARLIE BLACK, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN ADVISER:  Chris, I don‘t expect you to hear anything new from John McCain tonight.  What you‘re going to hear tonight is him talk about how he is the most experienced, qualified person in either party to lead this country.  He will talk about how his top priority will be to fight the war on terror, the war against the extreme Islamic fanaticism.  He will talk about the priority of cutting federal spending and getting pork-barrel spending under control in Washington.  And he‘s going to talk about energy independence.  He made a major speech on that recently.

Now, he does disagree with how the war in Iraq was handled during the first four years, and frankly, he has said many times he disagrees with the level of spending that President Bush has permitted.  But he‘s very, very strongly in support of President Bush on many of his policies.

MATTHEWS:  Does he believe that Mayor Giuliani did a good job before 9/11 of preparing his city for possible attack?

BLACK:  I think he does.  The comment that he made in his speech about the need to get the first responders all on the same spectrum to communicate with each other relates to the issue at the federal level.  He was chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee when he tried to get the spectrum allocated to allow the first responders to do that and was unable to get the federal government to do it.  So he wasn‘t—he was talking about the federal government in those comments, not Mayor Giuliani.  It just so happens they‘re good friends.

MATTHEWS:  So that was a shot at—that was a shot at Bush, not Giuliani?

BLACK:  It was at shot at the federal government and the fact that...

MATTHEWS:  Well, who‘s running the federal government for the last...

BLACK:  ... federal policy required...

MATTHEWS:  ... six or seven years?

BLACK:  Well, Congress passed a requirement that the big broadcast networks, not to step on anybody‘s toes, when they went to HDTV, were supposed to return the analog spectrum.  They kept stalling and trying to convince Congress not to make them do that, and it still hasn‘t happened.  That was what that issue was about.

Senator McCain will be here to talk about himself, his record, the fact that he‘s the most experienced and prepared person to be president, not to talk about the other candidates tonight.

MATTHEWS:  Really?  So you‘re really putting the lid on tonight.  You‘re saying he‘s not going to say anything new and he‘s not going to criticize the other candidates.  Why such a hold position in a candidacy where he has faded a bit in the numbers?  Why would you go into a hold pattern if things aren‘t working out so well?

BLACK:  Well, if you look at the numbers that are out this week in Iowa and New Hampshire, South Carolina, in fact, Senator McCain appears to be gaining, rather than going backwards.  But the point is, you got 10 candidates on the stage who have to talk, plus you have to talk.  Nobody‘s going to get more than just a few minutes to state their own case.  So you‘ll hear John McCain present his vision for where he wants to take the country, and we‘ll demonstrate that he‘s the most experienced and qualified leader in either party to be president of the United States.

MATTHEWS:  Are you afraid that the more distant candidates who have lower numbers in the polls will use tonight as an opportunity to take shots, potshots, if you will, at the frontrunners?

BLACK:  Well, I‘m not afraid of that.  I know most of them.  They‘re smart people.  This is a chance for them to present their own case and their own positive views to millions of people.  Why would they waste their time talking about the other candidates instead of themselves?  I think you‘re going to see a positive...

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know why.

BLACK:  ... debate tonight...

MATTHEWS:  They‘ll put them on...

BLACK:  ... just like (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS:  ... the front page of the newspaper, that‘s why they‘ll do it!  Yes, the reason they do it, Charlie...

BLACK:  Well, but...

MATTHEWS:  ... (INAUDIBLE) an expert here—the reason you criticize the big shots when you‘re a little shot is it gets you on the front page.  That‘s why you do it.

BLACK:  Well, I think nobody‘s been elected president who didn‘t make the positive case for themselves and get themselves known to the American people, and that really should be the first step.  Plus, I have great faith in the moderator not to let things get out of hand.


MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thanks, Charlie.  Touche.  I mean, first of all, I‘m attacked because the media is grabbing all the broadband and not allowing the firemen to talk to the police, and now it‘s time for getting in the way of everybody.

Let me go back to you guys.  Your candidate, Giuliani, does he take offense when someone like McCain announces his campaign, and in the first paragraph of the speech says one of the big problems of 9/11 is that the police and the firemen in New York couldn‘t talk to each other?

MOLINARI:  No.  I don‘t...

MATTHEWS:  He didn‘t take offense at that?

MOLINARI:  I don‘t think he did.  I think—quite frankly, they‘ve been good friends and they‘ve worked together and...

MATTHEWS:  No, but...


MOLINARI:  I take Charlie‘s word that what this was was a shot at the federal government.  No one can expect the mayor to envision what is going to happen pre-terrorist attack.  Rudy obviously did an amazing job, an amazing conservative job in governing his city—


MATTHEWS:  ... shot at you.  Don‘t admit you‘re hit.

MOLINARI:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t admit you‘re hit.

MOLINARI:  It‘s—it‘s—you know, it is what it is.

MATTHEWS:  How is Governor Romney going to introduce himself really nationally?  This is his first big chance.  He‘s ran some TV ads.  He‘s been governor of Massachusetts.  And he‘s—as he says, he‘s not from Washington, he‘s not part of the political culture.  How does he introduce himself into it tonight?

CASTELLANOS:  You know, I think it‘s a remarkable opportunity to do it here at the Reagan library.  I mean, this plane is unbelievable.  What Ronald Reagan did to strengthen America, he did three things.  Ronald Reagan was not a two-thirds Republican, he was a three-thirds Republican.  Ronald Reagan strengthened the military and made America strong in the world.  Ronald Reagan strengthened our economy, tax cuts.  Ronald Reagan also strengthened our culture, and he understood the importance of family.  Ronald Reagan said that the answer to all our problems could be found between the two covers of the Bible.

And I think right now, we need all that strength of the Republican Party, and the candidate I think that you‘re going to see introduce himself tonight who‘s going to do that‘s Mitt Romney.

MATTHEWS:  Is he a Christian conservative?

CASTELLANOS:  Yes, of course.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m just asking because that seems to be the mantle that everybody wants to get these days.  Ever since George Allen was knocked out of the race...

CASTELLANOS:  Well, he‘s a Christian...

MATTHEWS:  ... that job has been open.

CASTELLANOS:  ... and he‘s a conservative.  I guess...

MATTHEWS:  No, but you know what I mean...


MATTHEWS:  You know what I mean.  It‘s a cultural statement.  It means that you speak for people who are concerned about modernity, as Bill Bennett would put it, who don‘t like some of the modern cultural stuff going on in this country.  They don‘t like abortion generally.  They don‘t like gay marriage generally—just against these new things, if you will.

CASTELLANOS:  No, you know...

MATTHEWS:  Is he like that?

CASTELLANOS:  I think we‘re not ready to outlaw new things.  I think, if anything, the candidate in this race who is most concerned about a world that has been transformed and how we‘re going to lead a stronger country into the future and we‘re going to have to do some new things, is Mitt Romney.


CASTELLANOS:  So—yes.  It‘s—no, I think he‘s a very forward-looking guy.  Every time—everything he‘s ever touched, he‘s been able to transform and make a little better, from the Olympics to Massachusetts to business, where he‘s been tremendously successful.  The reason I‘m here—

I wasn‘t even planning on working on a presidential race this time—is this guy makes me feel like there just isn‘t a problem America can‘t solve, and that‘s what I think, I hope people will see tonight.

MATTHEWS:  Alex Castellanos, thank you all.  Thank you, Charlie Black. 

Charlie Black was especially strong tonight.  I want to thank everyone—

Susan—why did I short you tonight?  Would you please come back around midnight?  We‘re doing this again tonight (INAUDIBLE)

When we return, NBC‘s Tom Brokaw is going to join us.  As I said, the first-in-the-country Republican debate gets under way in a little less than three hours now right here at the Ronald Reagan library out here in California.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  I‘m live from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library this afternoon, as we get ready for tonight‘s Republican presidential debate in this very room.  Ronald Reagan was often masterful in settings just like this, cutting his political opponents with a brilliant one-liner, and of course, a smile.

MSNBC‘s Mike Barnicle looks back at the great debate performances of the president who got the nickname “the great communicator.”


GOV. RONALD REAGAN (R-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I would like to ask the president, why is it inflationary to let the people keep more of their money and spend it the way they‘d like, and it isn‘t inflationary to let him take that money and spend it the way he wants?

MIKE BARNICLE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR (voice-over):  Classic Ronald Reagan.  The president known as “the great communicator” obliterated his presidential debate opponents with devastating one-liners, killer comebacks, and bull‘s-eye rhetorical questions.  Going head to head against Jimmy Carter in 1980, he diminished the sitting president with this now famous retort.

JIMMY CARTER, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Governor Reagan again, typically, is against such a proposal.


REAGAN:  There you go again.  When I opposed Medicare...

PAT BUCHANAN, REAGAN WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR:  There‘s no doubt about it, Ronald Reagan won the 1980 election when he turned to Jimmy Carter and said, “There you go again,” in effect, sort of dismissing him.  He was the master of the one-liner.  He was a natural.

JAMES BAKER, REAGAN CHIEF OF STAFF:  I think the fact that he had spent so much time in the movie business and as an announcer—I mean, he was just completely at home with that medium and he was terrific with the medium.

DAVID GERGEN, REAGAN PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER:  He had a knack for understanding how you get in people‘s heads and persuade them through simple lines, simple questions or simple quips.  It wasn‘t complicated for him.  It was easy for him, but it‘s complicated for us to understand how he did t.

ED MEESE, REAGAN ATTORNEY GENERAL:  He would go through debate practices, and we tried to be as tough on him as possible to get him ready for those debates, and he was very good about absorbing information and also being able to respond.

BARNICLE:  His closing statement in the 1980 Carter debate is still regarded as one of the best of all time.

REAGAN:  Are you better off than you were four years ago?  Is it easier for you to go and buy things in the stores than it was four years ago?  Is there more or less unemployment in the country than there was four years ago?

GERGEN:  We knew what people would say to that.  Hell, no, I‘m not better off.  My lifestyle has gone downhill.  The country‘s gone downhill.  We had all these Americans captured in Iran.  You know, this is terrible.  We knew where they were going to go, but when Reagan asked that question, it cinched the debate.

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN:  That captured the entire theme of his campaign because Carter had double-digit inflation, unemployment, et cetera, et cetera.  So it‘s not just a tricky moment in that debate, it was a theme that he could then rely on for the rest of the campaign.

BARNICLE:  He beat Jimmy Carter by a landslide and four years later, faced Democratic challenger Walter Mondale.  His first debate with the former vice president didn‘t go well.  His age, 73 at the time, became an issue.

BARBARA WALTERS, ABC NEWS:  Mr. Reagan, you had your rebuttal and I just cut you off because our time is gone.  You have a chance now for rebuttal before your closing statement, is that correct?

REAGAN:  No, I might as well just go with...

WALTERS:  You want to go with your—OK.

REAGAN:  I don‘t think so.

WALTERS:  You want to wait?  You...

REAGAN:  I‘m all confused now.

WALTERS:  Technically...

GOODWIN:  In the first debate, he seemed lost.  He even said, I‘m a little confused.  I‘m a little lost.  And people worried then about his age.  So knowing that he had to deal with that in the second debate, he comes up with this line that anybody has to laugh about, when the issue of age he knows is going to come up.

REAGAN:  And I want you to know that also, I will not make age an issue of this campaign.  I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent‘s youth and inexperience.


BUCHANAN:  You saw Walter Mondale exploded in laughter.  And I remember watching that, and I said, The election‘s over.  He‘s just put it on ice right there.

BARNICLE:  And it was.  Reagan took the 1984 election by a landslide.  And now, over 20 years later, what lessons can today‘s candidates take from the undisputed debating champion?

GERGEN:  I mean, there‘s no way you can teach somebody to be Ronald Reagan again.  Everybody tries.  And (INAUDIBLE) to tell you, as these candidates come out here out to the Reagan library, they ought to be darned glad that Ronald Reagan‘s not out there on the stage with them debating because I‘m telling you, he could—he was the best I have seen since at least Kennedy.


BARNICLE:  A lot of us have seen over the years, he was a man, a president, who always walked in sunshine, with a smile and a huge air of optimism about him, Chris, something that the candidates would do well to try and mimic tonight.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know, I just wonder about the—the business that we cover and to try to figure this out.  You know, if this was a sports event, we‘d say, How does somebody get to be another Babe Ruth?  How does somebody get to do those kinds of lines?

You know, “There you go again”—I looked at a book by Roger Ailes, who runs FOX, of course, used to work for Reagan—that, actually, that was an old Reagan line.  He had used that as an old sort of catchphrase.  He had used it before, that joke about not using his opponent‘s age and inexperience against him. 


MATTHEWS:  He just pulled that back from the stack of golden oldies, and he saved his reputation with it. 


And he had a natural ease to him that clearly he had all of his life.  He was physically comfortable with himself.  He was politically comfortable with himself.  And, in all of the interviews that we put together for this peace, each—each of the people we interviewed, from James Baker, to Pat Buchanan, to Ed Meese, they all indicated that, in the most high-pressure situations in the White House or in a campaign, he always had that ease about him, which I—which I think is probably an aspect of leadership that a lot of candidates would like to have. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you, Mike Barnicle.  Great piece, by the way. 

Up next, NBC‘s Tom Brokaw joins us, when HARDBALL‘s live coverage, the first-in-the-country Republican debate, continues, live from the Reagan Presidential Library. 

What a beautiful place out here.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL, live from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, as we get ready for tonight‘s first-in-the-country Republican presidential candidates debate. 

We‘re joined now by NBC‘s Tom Brokaw.

Tom, have you been out here since they built this incredible hangar, and this airplane, Air Force One, out here? 


MATTHEWS:  It‘s something else. 

BROKAW:  No. They were just building it when I was there last.  Actually, the—I have spent a fair amount of time at the museum, as you may know. And they were kind enough to let us use their helicopter pad during the California wildfires.  So, I do stay in touch with it.  And Mrs.  Reagan and I correspond from time to time.  So, I have been keeping—keeping up with what‘s going on. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, it is quite dramatic, though.

We have got Air Force One here in the hangar, the one they used in Reagan the administration and all the presidents before him.  They have got Marine One here, as well, in the building.  It‘s like the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.  It is so dramatic. 

And, right next to it all tonight, we are going to have this debate tonight, in the—very much in the shadow of the Reagan presidency. 

How much do you think they are going to try to customize themselves to the setting? 

BROKAW:  I think a lot, Chris.  I think you will hear a lot about being a Reagan Republican, and probably not a lot from this group tonight about being a George W. Bush Republican. 

Ronald Reagan really is the godfather of the modern conservative movement.  I have thought a lot about his influence, of course, on this country and on his party in particular.  It was the 1966 that I arrived in Los Angeles as a new correspondent for NBC.  And my first assignment was to cover Ronald Reagan, as he was trying to win the Republican primary for the governor of California and the nomination in that spring. 

And there were a Democrats then who believed he would be their best hope, if he won, because they were worried about Mayor Christopher of San Francisco, which tells you..

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BROKAW:  ... which tells you how skilled they were at handicapping what was going on, and, then, of course, two terms as governor, two terms as president of the United States.

And his offspring now are in trouble.  The conservatives who are in the White House at this moment, and those who are even in the Congress, they all grew out of the Ronald Reagan movement that began in 1980, when he won the presidency. 

But I think that they misread Ronald Reagan.  He was very conservative, obviously.  He had these unalloyed beliefs.  But he was always willing to find the middle higher ground when necessary, and that was an important part of his political legacy that is too often overlooked, in my judgment. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, who gets credit for that crosswalk from the philosopher, the conservative, to the practical, very successful candidate in 1980?  Was that Bill Casey?  Was it Jim Baker?  Who got him used to the idea that it was the economy and a couple of other issues that would make him president over Carter? 

BROKAW:  I think his own instincts told him that.

I mean, I—obviously, he had great advice from people like Mike Deaver, who was a part of the original crowd around him.  Lyn Nofziger, who was an unalloyed conservative as well, was interested in winning.  He knew what they were going to have to do at that time. 

The kitchen cabinet were all very successful businessmen, the people that he listened to out there.  But he had this unerring compass of his own, growing out of his own roots in small-town Illinois, and then in Iowa, then as a liberal Democrat, and as a very successful broadcaster, before he became a movie star and then went back to broadcasting again. 

He had almost a pitch-perfect ear, in my judgment, for the voice of America.  He could hear what the people were saying and what they wanted, and calibrate his message to them almost perfectly. 


MATTHEWS:  How come he‘s always underestimated?  It seems like, in the last couple of years, we have seen his radio scripts that are so well-written.  And now we—because of Doug Brinkley and Mrs. Reagan, we‘re getting to see his diary notes. 

It seems like, at every stage, he still has to prove himself. 

BROKAW:  Totally underestimated. 

I watched him win twice in California.  He was a big challenger, of course, to Gerald R. Ford, almost won the nomination, in 1976. 

And, yet, when he ran in 1980, in this end of the country, the pundits and the Democrats thought, no, he‘s a washed-up old Hollywood actor.  And I kept saying, do not underestimate Ronald Reagan.  He has this great, great ambition, which was important.  And he had, as I said just a few moments ago, this instinct about where the country was and where it wanted to go.

And he was the apotheosis of that.  When he stepped off the airplane in Washington in 1980, he looked as if he were cast by Hollywood.  I sent some video out to Mrs. Reagan recently from a meeting that he had with Dwight Eisenhower in 1967, right after he had been elected.

And, when you see how dashing he was then, and full of optimism, it really did represent a sea change in America. 

MATTHEWS:  That ability to talk to the American people individually, it seems like still is his unique ability, doesn‘t it, Tom? 

BROKAW:  Well, you remember that scene when he went up to Boston, when we had very high unemployment.  We were in a recession in this country in the first couple of years of his administration.

And he walked out of the pub—I think he was in Southie—he walked out of the pub with a bunch of union guys...


BROKAW:  ... around him, and he had his trench coat on.  And he hoisted a stein of beer, and they were all cheering him. 

MATTHEWS:  I know, the Eire Pub.  I know.  I know.

BROKAW:  And that was...

MATTHEWS:  And the nuns would come up to tip and say, leave him—stop being so mean to President Reagan. 

BROKAW:  Yes. 

He had...



BROKAW:  He had—he really had a—there was a great affection for him.  We saw that during the course of the week that he passed. 

Now, Ronald Reagan was also a man who had his political flaws, as all presidents do.  Sometimes, he carried things too far.  Sometimes, he allowed his White House to get out of control, which got him into trouble.

And Mrs. Reagan was an enormously important influence on him, I believe, when it came to dealing with the Soviet Union, and creating what will be one of the great enduring legacies of his presidency. 

Can I just tell you one quick story?  I was listening to Mike‘s...


BROKAW:  ... report on his ability to be a great debater. 

I think it had a lot to do with all those years on radio, in which he would improvise the games that he saw coming in over the ticker.  He was on television a lot.  He was completely at ease when he would be in a studio like this.  And most candidates have not grown up in these environments. 

I remember the—toward the end of his first term as governor of California, when there were a lot of issues that were on the table, and one of my colleagues, Bob Abernathy (ph), and I really went to school on the Reagan record.  And he was coming in to do a half-an-hour news—or interview with us.

And we kind of choreographed it, worked it out, so, Bob would go after him on one subject.  I would go after him with another.  We would have a follow-up.  We had all the data at our fingertips.  And it was tense and kind of exhausting. 

And we went to a commercial break.  And I was looking down at my notes, thinking, you know, for the first time, we have kind of put Ronald Reagan on a spot here.  And I looked up to see how he was handling it all, and he was looking at the shoeshine on his shoes, to make sure that it was OK.  He was completely...


BROKAW:  ... nonplused by it all. 

MATTHEWS:  All those years of “General Electric Theater,” I remember them well.  I think that—I think you‘re dead right.  It is called professionalism. 


MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Tom Brokaw. 

BROKAW:  OK, Chris.  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  The debate is just now two—and-a-half-hours away—up next, last-minute strategy.  What can the candidates do tonight and right now to give themselves a little edge tonight? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL‘s live coverage of the first-in-the-country Republican debate, only on MSNBC. 


REBECCA JARVIS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Rebecca Jarvis with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

The Dow Jones industrial average closing at its third straight record high, finishing the day at 13241, after gaining 29.5 points.  The S&P gained 6.5 points, and closed above 1500 for the first time in six-and-a-half years—Nasdaq up more than 7.5 points. 

General Motors reported, first-quarter profits plunged 90 percent from a year ago.  That‘s mainly due to losses in GMAC‘s residential mortgage business.  GM shares fell more than 5 percent today. 

After the closing bell, Starbucks reported quarterly profit jumped 18 percent.  And earnings were in line with analyst forecasts. 

And a court in the Netherlands blocks the $21 billion sale of ABN Amro‘s LaSalle Bank unit to Bank of America.  That‘s because management failed to get shareholder approval for the deal.

And oil fell 49 cents, closing at $63.19 a barrel. 

That‘s it from CNBC, America‘s business channel—now back to


MATTHEWS:  Look at that.  Look at that, Air Force One, the one that carried Ronald Reagan. 

We‘re at the Reagan Library out here in California.  What an amazing presidential library.  This isn‘t like the one like with Harry Truman.  I can tell you that.  This is different as a presidential library.

And, right below there, there, you have the candidates who are going to be standing there tonight, 8:00, a few hours from now, 10 of them.  I will be standing to the left, as the moderator.  I will be joined by John Harris and Jim VandeHei of, a new kind of debate where you can actually call in your ideas on

For a preview of what‘s to come tonight from the candidates, let‘s turn now to some pros. 

Let‘s go to Mike Murphy, who‘s joining us.  He has worked a lot of these guys—and also Pat Buchanan and Bob Shrum. 

Shrummy, I want to start with you just to get—just to rip the bark off here tonight. 

If Hillary Clinton did so well in the last debate—and we thought she did—why is she now tailing Rudy Giuliani by six points?  She‘s down 51-46.  She had been above him in the other polls.  What happened to turn her down a bit, so that she flips negatively with Rudy? 

BOB SHRUM, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, I will say two things about that.  First, I don‘t much—much trust that “USA Today” poll, which has a long history of jumping all over the place. 

Secondly, I think John McCain is doing better.  And I don‘t think people have noticed it.  He is actually leading in the state polling in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.  And that‘s what matters.  The national polls don‘t matter at all. 

And I think he has benefited, inside the Republican Party, from his steadfast support for the surge.  The country doesn‘t like it, but most Republicans, or at least a vast majority of Republicans, do. 


MATTHEWS:  Bob, I think you‘re right on that.

But, back to the other point, if Hillary Clinton did so well, cosmetically and intellectually, last week, why isn‘t she comfortably ahead of Rudy Giuliani now?  The country wants a change.  She is more of a change than Rudy.  So, why has Rudy gotten a jump on her?  I just don‘t know.  I don‘t get that.  I want your answer. 


SHRUM:  Chris, I—well, I gave you my answer.  I don‘t trust the poll. 


MATTHEWS:  But what is it?  You don‘t trust the Gallup poll? 


SHRUM:  I don‘t know—I think trying to figure out where people are going to be a year from November in this is—is a big mistake. 

MATTHEWS:  All right.  OK.  OK.

SHRUM:  I think Hillary Clinton is doing well. 


MATTHEWS:  OK.  That‘s my question to you, Pat.

If she was a success, why has she dumped—why has she dropped down in the polls?  What happened there? 

PAT BUCHANAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, she‘s a success in front of how many, two million people?  And there are 300 million in the country. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BUCHANAN:  I think the Gallup poll reflects the whole...


MATTHEWS:  But you know word of mouth, Pat.  You know how these things work. 

BUCHANAN:  I know they do. 

MATTHEWS:  You know how these things work.


MATTHEWS:  One person sees it and tells five other people. 


BUCHANAN:  Well, I—look, I do think this. 

I do think that Hillary Clinton did very well in that debate.  I don‘t know anybody that didn‘t say so, and—among the professionals and the pundits.  And that eventually filters on down. 

The reason she‘s gone badly is the same quote—poll we always quote, Chris, which is something like 53 percent of the country won‘t vote for her under any circumstances in some of these polls.  And she hasn‘t been able to move that at all. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Mike Murphy. 

Are you ready here, Mike? 


MATTHEWS:  Mike Murphy is a real good guy here.  He has worked out here for Schwarzenegger.  You really know this state, as well.  Why do you think Hillary hasn‘t gotten a commanding lead after she did so well, according to the pundits, and her Democratic success last week? 

MURPHY:  I‘m not sure the voters are totally engaged yet.  This is still the preseason.  They‘re sampling rather than deciding.  And I actually Hillary has a candidate problem.  I think she is a very strong kind of political advocate.  She‘s a strong kind of manager, almost a staff type, almost a genius at that.  Whether or not the voters will ever really go to her as a candidate, even in the primary, I think is still a very open question. 

MATTHEWS:  So you think she could actually lose the nomination? 

MURPHY:  I think, actually, if I had to predict, I think she will lose the nomination. 

MATTHEWS:  Really?

MURPHY:  I don‘t know who will win, but I don‘t think she will. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, she‘s sort of running even against the field right now in the betting.  You don‘t share in that betting? 

MURPHY:  I‘m shorting Hillary Clinton.  I don‘t think she makes it.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask you about tonight.  We‘ll start with you again, Mike.  You‘ve prepared these guys before.  There‘s 10 people out there.  If you give everybody nine minutes out of 90, which would be if nothing else happened, everybody spoke relentlessly, which is not going to happen, that‘s not a lot of time. 

MURPHY:  It‘s not a lot at ail. 

MATTHEWS:  Can they make a point that will help them in the newspapers, get out there in the wire services, get out there on the blogs, so that they establish something new tonight they hadn‘t had before?  Can they do that? 

MURPHY:  They can, but it‘s very, very hard in these debates when there are so many people.  And I think you‘ve got two game plans.  Front-runners, the big three, have something to lose.  So they‘re going to be looking not to make mistakes. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘ve already heard that tonight.  They were sitting here.  We heard from the McCain people.  I think Charlie Black said—he‘s coming here right now—Charlie Black, there he is, Senator McCain.  We‘re watching him now get his place, getting comfortable there.  Charlie Black was on a few minutes ago, on live television, said, “He‘s not going to say anything new tonight.”  And he‘s denied he‘s taking any shots at Giuliani, even though it was pretty clear he did.  So he clearly doesn‘t want to play offense or defense tonight. 

MURPHY:  Yes, I think the big three will grab the camera and sell their stuff.  The littler guys need to have something happen. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, will the artillery fire come from the little guys to the big guys?

MURPHY:  Yes, the little guy is trying to throw an elbow to get in the lead of the story.  The big guys grab the camera, do their six minutes. 

MATTHEWS:  Pat Buchanan, is that what‘s going to happen?  People who haven‘t gotten the attention that they need will use shots at the big guys tonight to get it?

BUCHANAN:  Romney and McCain and Giuliani have already made the backfield.  There‘s three guys in the backfield.  Each of these seven is going to be for that fourth position.  My betting is that Tancredo will go directly, in a friendly way, at all three of the frontrunners, when he hits a hard line on immigration, and divorces himself from there. 

Each of those seven has got to distinguish himself if he‘s going to get into the front four or halfway there.  So I agree with Mike that that‘s what they have to do. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you know what Tancredo‘s going to do tonight? 

BUCHANAN:  I don‘t know for sure.  No, I mean, my sister is advising him, but if—I haven‘t talked to her, but if I did, I would say, “Go after these guys as weak sisters on immigration, in a nice way.  You got the evidence.  Do that in your first 30 seconds and, in your second 30, talk about what needs to be done on that border.”  Immigration is the hottest domestic issue.  He‘s got the hottest position on it.  That‘s what I‘d do. 


MATTHEWS:  Do you agree with that, Mike? 

Oh, yes, Bob, your turn. 

BOB SHRUM, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  It sounds to me like Pat ought to be running, because Tancredo is no Buchanan.  He‘s not going to get in the backfield.  The big story out of this debate tonight, I think, is going to be the relentless beating up of John McCain over the last few months, in which people have said, much as they did, by the way, about Ronald Reagan before the second debate in 1984, that he‘s fading, that he‘s weak, that maybe he‘s too old.  If he proves that‘s wrong—and that should be his strategic objective tonight—it‘s a big victory. 

By the way, Murphy is right.  Hillary Clinton could lose this nomination, and I would say to either Barack Obama or John Edwards. 

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Anyway, thank you very much, guys.  It‘s great to have three pros on.  Mike Murphy—love Murphy—Shrum, I love your new book.  I can‘t wait for it to come out.  I‘ve been reading it.  It is candy to read your new book, “No Excuses.”  Isn‘t that a clothing line or something?  Anyway, and Pat Buchanan, brother of Bay Buchanan.

Up next, the 10 Republican candidates will be debating beneath Air Force One.  This setting here is so unusual at the Reagan library.  We‘re going to take a look inside Air Force One when we return, my old stomping grounds, actually.  This is HARDBALL‘s live coverage of the Republican presidential candidates debate, here on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  We‘re back at the Reagan library right now, up here in the cat bird seat, overlooking Air Force One, there it is, the one that carried President Reagan and I think seven other presidents.  I‘ll be moderating tonight, this first in the country Republican presidential candidates debate. 

Mike Murphy is still with us.  He‘s a real political pro.  He‘s moved out to the West Coast in the sunshine here.  John Harris will be our partner tonight from  And, of course, they‘re going to be getting online questions.  It‘s a unique opportunity to really engage in.  You always say, “He‘s not asking the questions I want to ask.”  Well, either call in or get into

How do you do that, by the way?  How do you get into that?  Here‘s your chance.  Explain it.

JOHN HARRIS, POLITICO.COM:  Go to  You click on the debate questions, and you can vote on which question you want to ask.  And we‘re going to have sets of three questions rolling throughout the debate.  So this is in real time.  You get the chance to decide which questions...


MATTHEWS:  Can you tell the candidates to put up their dukes, take a shot (INAUDIBLE)

HARRIS:  I don‘t think that‘s going to be a problem.


MATTHEWS:  Do you think they will fight tonight? 

HARRIS:  Look, the Internet questions, virtually every one that we got

and we got 3,000 -- is basically forcing these candidates to take a stand and to mix it up a little bit.  Now, if they hang back, and they decide that‘s not the politic thing to do, that‘s going to be their problem, but it‘s going to be glaring...


MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about the differences here, just generically, without naming candidates, because we don‘t want to give away our plan.


MATTHEWS:  There is a distance on the issue of abortion rights amongst some of the candidates. 

HARRIS:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  There‘s a distance about what else?  What are the other issues where there‘s distance? 

HARRIS:  Immigration.  And that‘s obviously one of the biggest...


MATTHEWS:  ... Tancredo being...

HARRIS:  ... debates in the party, where you‘ve got the elite that tends to think one thing, like George W. Bush wants a consensus position on immigration. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s not be too complicated.  People who want to hire cheap labor want a more liberal policy.

HARRIS:  That‘s right.  But the Republican base—and I think Mike can speak to this, too—the Republican base is angry about this. 

MATTHEWS:  Explain that issue out here.

MURPHY:  Well, it‘s kind of the new Panama Canal.  It‘s where the elites are one place, and the grassroots, or most of them, are in another place.  Unfortunately, from my point of view, I‘m with the elites on this.  I‘m a liberal on immigration. 

But in the reality of the Republican primary, there‘s a lot of resentment and a lot of anger...

MATTHEWS:  Is anybody honest about this issue?  I think I am, meaning this:  I think we should have a liberal, enforced immigration policy.  I believe the only way to do that is to deal with employer sanctions, to deal with the border, to deal with a lot of things.  But everybody wants to do like one thing and not the other.  Nobody really wants to do it. 

MURPHY:  You know, there‘s not a big market in the campaign world for a lot of straight talk, so to speak, on immigration, because the more you get into—at least from my point of view—a serious policy answer, the more you get crosswise with all the grassroots anger.  And so you‘re going to see guys going for the cheap applause on the issue, but I think my guess no this is, the louder the volume, the less likely to be president, although the issue is a monster. 


MATTHEWS:  I mean, look at Michael Savage on the radio in San Francisco.  His career is basically, I think—I‘ve been listening to him going home at night.  He‘s pretty angry, to say the least, and not always very pleasant.  But he got into this illegal immigration issue early on, and he seems like he‘s nailed it.

HARRIS:  That‘s right, but it‘s simply not just a matter of catering to the base, because...


MATTHEWS:  By the way, sometimes the base is right.  That‘s the idea in democracy.  They may not be nice about it. 

HARRIS:  The problem is—and we saw this last fall—the candidates that take a harsh anti-immigration stand, Hispanic voters, the largest voting bloc, fastest growing voting bloc, they took flight from Republicans to the Democrats, so the politics of this are very treacherous. 

MATTHEWS:  But if you‘re a congressman from a district in the suburbs of Denver, it‘s your issue. 


HARRIS:  You can talk about it.  But if you‘re running for president of the United States, and you‘re...


MATTHEWS:  The minute you go statewide, it‘s as simple as this.  If you go statewide, then you need Hispanic or Latino votes? 

HARRIS:  Absolutely.  Republicans think they can make this state competitive in 2008; not if they have a harsh position on immigration. 

MURPHY:  It‘s also primary versus general.  I mean, this is about delegates, ultimately.  And then you get the nomination, it‘s about swing voters.  And that can be a long leap.  So you‘re going to see some guys tonight, on Iraq, immigration, other things, leaving some bread crumbs for later, because, first, the primary, then the general.  But you guys in the media always are rolling the videotape at all times, so what you do now, you‘ve got to live with later.

MATTHEWS:  Which guys in this crowd tonight, of the 10, are thinking general election, they can imagine themselves debating Hillary, or Obama, coming next October? 

MURPHY:  I‘d say the big three, plus Fred Thompson who‘s sitting in his living room somewhere. 

MATTHEWS:  They can see themselves in the general?

MURPHY:  Yes, so they can‘t go—if you‘re the long shot, you can burn the building down.  You got almost nothing to lose. 

MATTHEWS:  So Tancredo could go directly at the heart of John McCain tonight.

MURPHY:  Yes, he‘ll jump into the audience and try to citizen‘s arrest somebody, but he won‘t get nominated.  The more happy they are to be here, the smaller the chance they have to actually be president of the United States. 


MATTHEWS:  Why do the Irish love politics so much?  What is this about?

MURPHY:  I don‘t know.  We can‘t make anything, so we do this.

MATTHEWS:  I do this, too.  I just start laughing.  To me, it‘s like Christmas morning here this thing.  What is it, Harris?  You‘re the expert.

HARRIS:  I love it, too.  And I‘ve got not an ounce of...


MATTHEWS:  ... Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton, right? 

HARRIS:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  How big an issue is Clinton going to be among the Republicans?  Is he going to be the unifier on this side of the aisle? 


HARRIS:  I think the market of bashing Bill Clinton has really become a bear market.  There‘s just no gain in it. 

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t think it will come back when he‘s on the edge of coming back into the White House?

HARRIS:  Maybe a year from now it will come back, but I think people do not want that argument now. 

MATTHEWS:  Really? 

HARRIS:  I really think...

MATTHEWS:  Well, what about this thing we just heard from, who was it, Pat Buchanan that just said 50-some percent do not want her in the White House under any circumstances? 

HARRIS:  Look, she is a highly divisive figure.  I don‘t think, in the six years since he‘s left office, Bill Clinton is as polarizing as he once was. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Could either of you count the number of people on this stage tonight who voted for his impeachment? 

HARRIS:  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s pretty significant.  I mean, think of the...


MATTHEWS:  ... voted for his impeachment, every one of them.

HARRIS:  George H.W. Bush has practically adopted him, though.  A lot of change since 1998.

MATTHEWS:  But actually those two guys called off their duet, didn‘t they?  Didn‘t the word come from the RNC and the DNC that they‘ve got to stop dancing together, George Sr. and Bill? 

HARRIS:  Well, because it only helps Hillary Clinton.  But the fact is, I do not think Republicans want to get in a backward-looking debate about the 1990s any more than Hillary Clinton wants to get in a backward debate about the 1990s.


MATTHEWS:  ... why we should raise the issue tonight...


MURPHY:  He takes the oxygen out of the room for her.  That‘s the real problem, not that people don‘t like him or like him...


MURPHY:  ... it all becomes about him, not her.  And that‘s the problem. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, he‘s so much better as a politician now than he ever was in his life.  That‘s the interesting point.

HARRIS:  I totally agree with that. 

MATTHEWS:  I mean, he‘s better than he ever was.  He‘s liberated from having to run for anything or from anything.  So who‘s going to win tonight?  Hillary got the record last week for winning.  She didn‘t win the national numbers, but she won...

HARRIS:  I think the American people win tonight, Chris...


HARRIS:  There‘s no winner or loser.  It‘s a press conference...


MATTHEWS:  The press is going to be down in that (INAUDIBLE) center tonight after the debate, deciding who won.

MURPHY:  Fred Thompson, the one guy who didn‘t show up. 


MATTHEWS:  I‘m never having you on this show again, because I‘m not even going to mention the name Fred—I just did—because he‘s not here. 


MURPHY:  ... but that‘s the way the process media works...


HARRIS:  Murphy may be dodging now, but he‘s promised me in a piece for that, after the debate, he is going to pick a winner.  So...


MATTHEWS:  Are you marketing—is Murphy Enterprises back in the campaign for Fred Thompson? 

MURPHY:  No, no.  You know, I have a long history of both my dear friend, John McCain, and Mitt Romney.  So I‘m neutral.  I have to be.


MATTHEWS:  Should I say to Governor Thompson today, Tommy Thompson, “Who are you?  I thought Fred Thompson was coming.”  I‘m not going to say it...


MURPHY:  One of the great governors, Tommy Thompson. 


MATTHEWS:  He‘s got it, former secretary of HHS, former governor, very popular governor of a Midwestern state, exactly the kind of state the Republicans need to pick up, right? 


MURPHY:  The Great Lakes states are where we‘re getting killed. 

MATTHEWS:  I believe the election next time will be decided in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio.  They‘re going to be the states. 

MURPHY:  I don‘t disagree with that.

MATTHEWS:  Because Hillary could win in Florida.  She could win out West.  But she‘s got a problem with those gun-toting Midwestern macho men. 

HARRIS:  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  Just go see “Deer Hunter” again.  Drink beer at dawn and lock and load.  Thank you, Murphy.  It‘s great to see you.  You always make me happy.  Harris, tonight we are going to be fair out there.  It‘s going to scare them a little bit, to see us coming.

HARRIS:  Let‘s not leave our game in the locker room. 

MATTHEWS:  Big media.

HARRIS:  Two hours until game time. 

MATTHEWS:  Mainstream media.  Actually, you‘re a blogger, so—no, you‘re not a blogger...

HARRIS:  I‘ve got a lot of old media blood in me...


MATTHEWS:  I know, there‘s so much—thank you very much, Mike Murphy.  Michael, what‘s your middle name? 

MURPHY:  Ellis, like the island. 

MATTHEWS:  I thought you had a nickname.  It should be John or Joseph. 

Michael Joseph Murphy.  Anyway, thank you, John Harris. 

HARRIS:  Chris, see you soon.

MATTHEWS:  And Jim VandeHei is going to be joining us, too.  The Republican presidential candidates debate gets started just about two hours now.  It‘s getting close.  Like Christmas morning around here, 8:00 Eastern tonight.  I‘ll be moderating the debate with MSNBC‘s live coverage, continuing all afternoon through the night with Joe Scarborough, and then, one hour, Keith Olbermann.  Olbermann.  Arnold Schwarzenegger is coming tonight, Mr. Olbermann.  And I‘ll be right back after the debate for full coverage and analysis.



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